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Rahul Thadani
Why it is Unsafe to Use Pattern Locks to Protect Your Smartphone
September 11, 2015

When it comes to smartphone security, one of the first things that we recommend is to switch on the screen lock feature. A surprisingly large number of people are still using their phones without any kind of screen lock enabled and this is a major security loophole that leaves their devices and data open to thieves. In case of loss or theft of such devices, it is very simple then for a malicious party to access the phone and view or steal any data that he likes.

smartphone pattern lock

The different options available for locking the screen of a device are as follows, and all major smartphone manufacturers today provide these features.

  • Password – High security
  • PIN – Medium to high security
  • Fingerprint recognition – Medium to high security
  • Pattern – Medium security
  • Face and voice – Low security
  • Face unlock – Low security

A majority of people who do use the screen lock feature opt for the PATTERN functionality. This method of unlocking devices is fun, interactive and anyone who sets it up thinks it is pretty unique as well. However, the truth is that the pattern chosen by many people may not be that unique after all.

It has been discovered that the traces and patterns that we form for unlocking our phones are usually pretty easy to guess. At a recent PasswordsCon conference in Las Vegas, a Norwegian University of Science and Technology investigator showcased a study about these locking patterns and how little security they actually provide. Marte Løge, the investigator, studied around 4,000 user patterns to arrive at her conclusions.

Notable Findings about Pattern Locking

  1. In the 3×3 grid for setting the pattern, a maximum of 9 point traces can be used. But most people use much lesser.
  2. A majority of people only use 4 swipes for setting their pattern and this limits the total possible combinations to 1624.
  3. Around 44% of people start their patterns in the top-left corner. Moreover, 77% of patterns start in any one of the 4 corners.
  4. The pattern is also likely to go from left to right and from top to bottom. All these factors further reduce the number of possible combinations and this makes it easier for attackers to guess the potential patterns.

Some of the most common patterns that were seen to be used are as follows. So if you are using any of these as your screen lock patterns, it is highly recommended that you change it as soon as possible.

smartphone pattern security

Furthermore, we also recommend that you use the PASSWORD feature to unlock your smartphone. It goes without saying that the password you choose should be a strong one as well. It should consist of at least 8 characters; have at least one number, at least one CAPITAL alphabet and at least one special character. This will make your smartphone close to impossible to unlock even if someone does get their hands on it.

Moreover, you should also use the Anti-Theft feature of mobile security solutions. This feature will enable you to remotely locate, lock or wipe your stolen smartphone. Taking the right steps and precautions to protect your assets is something that cannot be taken lightly anymore.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Rahul Thadani
About Rahul Thadani
Rahul is a web enthusiast and blogger, and has been writing about the computer security industry for the last three years. Following the latest technology trends,...
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35 Comments

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  1. Ramachandran NairSeptember 16, 2015 at 8:22 PM

    Good Advice…..Thanks…..

    Reply
  2. Aditya KrishnakumarSeptember 16, 2015 at 9:10 PM

    If in dev options if usb debugging is enabled, then anyone with a PC(with adb) and a USB cable can hack into your phone (PASSWORDS and PATTERNS also !)

    Reply
  3. Kumar AbhinavSeptember 16, 2015 at 9:29 PM

    That’s quite a nice article!
    But no matter how strong your password is, if someone with some knowledge of adb gets their hands on your device,and your device has USB Debugging enabled, then no matter how strong your password is, they can break right through it,without even having to guess your password! The only thing one can do is to make sure they turn off USB Debugging from Developer Options on their phone and turn it on only when necessary. Those who don’t know what that means,you’re quite safe already 😀

    Reply
  4. Most revealing.
    Thank you,
    Ashok Dewan

    Reply
  5. VERY INFORMATIVE ARTICLE ABOUT Pattern Locking.
    PL SUGGEST GOOD MOBILE ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE FOR ANDROID MOBILE.

    Reply
  6. useful..xoxo

    Reply
  7. Sir,
    No doubt it is a good observation but you should mention, how can one protect smart phone effectivly.
    Please do write an article on smart way to protect your smart phone and the data contains.
    Thank you and regards,
    Harshad

    Reply
  8. thanks a lot for your very important information.

    Reply
  9. Chetan NachaneSeptember 17, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    Thank you for the information.

    After reading this, one question arose , which is :

    Most of the data is on memory card.In case the phone is stolen and I have taken care to have a strong password, what about the data on the card?

    How can I secure this data ,also? Or is it vulnerable without any means for security?

    Reply
    • Hi Chetan,

      That is a valid concern and unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done about the data on the SD card. There is nothing to stop a malicious party from removing the SD card and getting the data from that. So it is perhaps better to not store sensitive data on the SD card.

      Best regards.

      Reply
  10. ASHITAVA GHOSESeptember 17, 2015 at 11:40 AM

    Worth Reading !

    Thanks !!!

    Reply
  11. I WANT TO SAFE MY LAPTOP AND MOBILE FROM VIROUS

    Reply
  12. Thanks for the information. This is the very reason that I prefer a fingerprint lock on my phone over any other type of lock and also as there is no hassle of forgetting it like it is in the case of passwords or patterns.

    Reply
  13. jawahar patelSeptember 17, 2015 at 5:30 PM

    Good suggestions made.

    Reply
  14. I use Fingerprint recognition in my iPhone6. Isn’t that security enough to keep my data safe.

    Reply
    • Hi Rahul,

      While the fingerprint recognition is definitely good, the best security for locking a smartphone is the password lock. Considering that the password chosen is a very strong one. The fingerprint recognition feature can be compromised by advanced hackers, but it will be sufficient for everyday use.

      Regards.

      Reply
  15. Quick Heal anti virus is good.

    Reply
  16. safe in all parts

    Reply
  17. sahadev chauhanSeptember 18, 2015 at 4:28 PM

    good

    Reply
  18. NAGRAJ KODLEKERESeptember 18, 2015 at 7:25 PM

    What you said is correct. I too was using a pattern lock some time back and found it useful as my children could not open my smart phone. But then one of my friend told me that if I meet with an accident, or if I lose the phone, and the person wants to contact me or my family member, how can he do it when I have locked my phone with a pattern lock?

    So I removed the pattern lock and now it just has a slide lock.

    Suggest what other option do I have for this situation.

    Reply
    • For Android users, The owner’s information can be stored on locked screen. When you switch on the phone, it displays the data stored by you including all personal details. To do this-
      Settings>Device>Lock screen>owner info (Fill in whats ever data you want to display when the phone is locked but switched on)

      Reply
  19. good suggestions so thanks

    Reply
  20. Rahul, very helpful info.. thanks

    Reply
  21. Thanks for valuable advice.

    Reply
  22. It is not helpful for me… bec i used hi security pattern loc.

    Reply
  23. Hariom MauryaSeptember 20, 2015 at 5:20 PM

    Quick Heal anti virus pro is the best

    Reply
  24. Bhagawan Kishore KumarSeptember 21, 2015 at 5:14 PM

    Excellent advice

    Reply
  25. Sir,
    Good information.
    But my opinion is to keep the screen without any locks while travelling / driving.
    I am saying this b’coz, one of my friend met an accident while driving & felt unconscious. Passerby took him to hospital & they were unable to contact his friends / relatives as his cell phone screen was kept locked. He was travelling from Kerala to Bangalore alone in his car. Due to out station driving license & number plate, local police took nearly one whole day & night to get in touch with his relatives. Luckily, my friend is safe now But it was really a lesson among us & we keep our cell phone screens unlocked in travelling now-a-days 🙂
    So keep important data hidden / locked, but not screen,,,Just my opinion..

    Thanks,
    SHAMAL

    Reply
    • Dear Shamal,

      That is a very good point. Thank you for your feedback and for sharing this insight. We agree that a phone lock could cause such complications during emergency scenarios. However, there may be another way to avoid this also. Instead of relying on technology for this, maybe individuals can just keep a piece of paper in their wallet/purse/pocket stating their name, address, phone number and emergency contact. This information can be written in large writing to make it visible and it can be instantly visible when one opens the wallet/bag. A lot of bags have label slots also for this purpose. Another suggestion which may not work for everyone is to carry dogtags in one’s possession with the same information.

      Best regards.

      Reply
  26. MUNNALAL AGARWALOctober 2, 2015 at 7:01 PM

    VERY GOOD ADVICE.
    I SURE SHARE THIS TO MY ALL FRIENDS AND RELATIVES.

    Reply
  27. Nicr app’s

    Reply
  28. Gerald AdamsMarch 23, 2016 at 10:47 AM

    Rahul, great tip! It’s really helpful. This may be out of the topic but do you know some ways to unlock a phone? Right now I’m asking the help of Debloquer Telephone to unlock my phone

    Reply